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What is Heat Stress and Its Possible Subsequent Illnesses

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While most workers have the comfort of an air conditioned office during the hot days of summer, many are not quite so lucky. Workers who are exposed to extreme heat or work in hot environments could definitely be at risk for heat stress, which can result in occupational illnesses and injuries.

Workers at risk of heat stress include outdoor workers and those working in hot environments, such as firefighters, farmers, construction workers, miners, boiler room workers, bakery workers, factory workers and others. In this blog, we will cover CDC’s and NIOSH’s definitions of heat stress and the illnesses that can result from it.

Heat Stress
The net heat load to which a worker is exposed from the combined contributions of metabolic heat, environmental factors, and clothing worn which results in an increase in heat storage in the body.

Heat Strain
The physiological response to the heat load (external or internal) experienced by a person, in which the body attempts to increase heat loss to the environment in order to maintain a stable body temperature.

Heat Cramp
A heat-related illness characterized by spastic contractions of the voluntary muscles (mainly arms, hands, legs, and feet), usually associated with restricted salt intake and profuse sweating without significant body dehydration.

Heat Exhaustion
A heat-related illness characterized by elevation of core body temperature above 38°C (100.4°F) and abnormal performance of one or more organ systems, without injury to the central nervous system. Heat exhaustion may signal impending heat stroke.

Heat Stroke
An acute medical emergency caused by exposure to heat from an excessive rise in body temperature [above 41.1°C (106°F] and failure of the temperature-regulating mechanism. Injury occurs to the central nervous system characterized by a sudden and sustained loss of consciousness preceded by vertigo, nausea, headache, cerebral dysfunction, bizarre behavior, and excessive body temperature.

Heat Syncope
Collapse and/or loss of consciousness during heat exposure without an increase in body temperature or cessation of sweating, similar to vasovagal fainting except that it is heat induced.
Stay tuned as we will focus our next blog on heat stress in the workplace and what employers and employees can do to prevent heat stress.

Mr. Griffith has a received his bachelors degree in Environmental Health from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. He is a Certified Industrial Hygienist and president of Workplace Safety & Health Company. He has over 35 years of industrial hygiene, safety, loss control and consulting experience. Chemical monitoring, noise measurement, program development and management, risk assessment and computer management of health and safety data are areas of particular strength. Mr. Griffith is a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) at the local and national level. He is also active in the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

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